The Fall and Rise of the Hoarder

I don’t have cable television but fortunately I still get my recommended USDA pop culture dosage by watching at other people’s houses. The ability to watch cable television in such a manner is akin to enjoying other people’s babies. You can ooh and ahh and make corny cutesy noises and marvel at how “great” they are but then you can go home directly afterwards and sleep in the quiet serenity of your own place and not have to worry about getting up at 2 am to warm milk or change diapers or wipe asses. It’s the Principle of Part Time Enjoyment without the drawbacks. I don’t have that ridiculously overpriced cable bill while still enjoying oodles of televised dreck.

Something commenter Sono wrote yesterday triggered a thought after I watched a recent episode of A&E TV’s grueling-to-watch but popular “Hoarders” on Saturday. For those not familiar, Hoarders is a reality show which chronicles the lives of publicly-diagnosed “hoarders,” individuals who shamefully fulfill the show’s “victim of the week” role in its episodic portrayals. Each program is presaged by a slide that summarizes the mental affliction tormenting the miserable souls who entertain us for interspersed hour-long bites of viewing “pleasure.” This is the obligatory “public service” portion that seeks to offset the ensuing voyeuristic spectacle.

While watching this show, I sense that there is an underlying attitude of condescension on the part of the family members, friends, and “normal” television viewers in regards to the spotlighted hoarding subject of the week. This self-deluded pity we feel is masked behind the sensible veneer of concern and head-shaking disgust. We assume the air of disconnected superiority as we witness in amazement as the cameras lead us through the living quarters which are invariably overwhelmed with filth and garbage and logic-defying clutter we can’t fathom in our tidy minds. When we feel pity, we feel superior and thus privileged in our own smarmy boastful manner. We announce, “Oh my God, how do people live like that, what is wrong with them?” The levels of emotional expression triggered by the Fall of the Hoarder makes no sense. Family members routinely break down in tears when confronted with the abject horror of their mother’s or sibling’s metastasized hoarding gone terribly awry.

The predominant civilized view seems to be that hoarders are to be pitied while simultaneously assisted out of their dilapidated surroundings, but sitting in our comfortable living rooms, we fail to realize that modern man is, at nature, a hoarder. Isn’t he? In contrast to our primitive cave-counterparts, our modern incarnation is an uncontrollable hoarder.

If nomadic prehistoric man watched our current breed of consumerist, materialistic culture splayed across a television screen, wouldn’t he feel the same sense of disgust at our exaggerated sense of gathering and accumulating? Wouldn’t he pity this burdensome world we’ve erected around the presumed establishment of spiritual and physical hoarding? Psst…we delight in our own measured sense of hoarding. We call it culture and progress because it’s supposedly housed within the confines of good taste and restrained sensibilities. Prehistoric man would guffaw at our drive to build fixed structures in which we to store our multiplying possessions and enslaving trinkets of culture. (Special debt of gratitude to George Carlin, of course)

In fact, if we closely examine the hoarding definition as supplied by A&E’s show, Compulsive Hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous or unsanitary, we see that it is rife with value judgments and relative measures of perspective. Might that definition not be used to describe our modern ownership fixations here in our 21st Century junkyard?

“Hoarders” is about us, about our civilization; it highlights pockets of it where it’s gone mad, but what exactly are frenzied hoarders who live in piles of collected squallor if not us, writ compactly. If our possessions are dispersed logical and orderly, or messy and nonsensically, what honest distinction can we make between the two?

  • Eric Shun

    While not a hoarder, my father has become a pack-rat as he’s aged. Instead of downsizing in retirement, he upsized from a 920sf house to a 4 bedroom/3 bath 2500sf house w/ a 5-car garage and workshop. He’s got every room filled with yardsale furniture and TVs, and three cars, a boat, & a motorcycle take over the garage. He’s got so much old junk packed away and piled in the garage that he can’t find specific tools when he need them.

    • I think that’s the normal route for most people. We are “accumulaters” by nature. I’ve taken the reverse track and I actually possess less stuff/historic artifacts now, than say, what I had when I was 25.

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  • Well, I can say that hoarding is real. And scary. I don’t think I will comment too much just to say that someone I knew was a candidate for this show. Whole rooms were blocked off. And it was getting worse. But as for myself, I can get a lot of crap. But every so often one has to go through it and see if they really need what they have. NO ONE is gonna touch my sports schedules until I croak!

    • David

      Or bus schedules!!! Ha!

  • Amy

    Keeping your stuff streamlined is much simpler for those who live alone. Add a spouse and/or other family members and you have other people’s priorities to contend with.

    Why do you suppose our society finds it funny when a wife clears out her husband’s prized collection of what-have-you and donates it to charity (how many TV shows have used that old chestnut for an easy laugh?), and yet–it wouldn’t be considered funny *at all* if he did the same thing?

    • David

      “Luuuuuucccccccccyyyyyyyyyy, where did you put all my handcuffs, mama mia!!” True, adding a person actually exponentially increases your clutter like three-fold. For each person you add, the ratio holds true.

  • sono

    I would slightly disagree. I don’t have luckily TV, so I have not watched the show, but I can only imagine:)the pictures there.. I occasianally “stepped” on people with Hoarder’s mentality , and even though it is hard for me to comprehend the phenomena ( I’m the oppposite of hoarder/hate clutter) I think they are trying to fulfill some kind of the void that they have it their lives.Something is missing there, and they try to cover it with acquiring more and more THINGS. Things bring a short lived consolation, feeling that one accomplished something in his life and the things prove that accomplishment. Or sometimes, I think, hoarding,is an addiction.Compulsive obsessive addiction that, as most of the addictions, started benignly, progressed slowly, is hard to get rid of, and overpowers the person to the point that addiction, not a common sense, intelligence etc. rules. America is a land of addicts. You have to become one here in order to survive:).
    So far, I’m addicted to coffee and mildly (?????,eh) to the internet.

    • Amy

      My mother was what I would consider a hoarder–though not the sort they have on that show. My best guess as to why she held on to so much is that her father was often out of work, and they had to move frequently. She’d had to leave things behind when they moved.

      After she died, my sister and I discovered she’d kept *everything* from our childhoods. She would have been absolutely horrified at the amount of stuff that ended up in the dumpster (e.g. ratty old stuffed toys, old musty clothes) or going to charity.

      • David

        I have way too much clutter but it’s because I’m really to lazy to clean sometimes. I was the victim of identity theft years ago and I got really fucked. For the longest time I would not throw away anything that came in the mail. I held on to it for the magical day I would buy a shredder. That day never came and the junk mail kept piling up. I have reams of junk mail bulging out of boxes now. And still no shredder. Now I simply tear up my mail, I’ve loosened up a bit in the past few years.

    • David

      I’m very addicted to the internet. When my electrical power or signal goes down, I cry uncontrollably.

      Yes, I think my point about compulsive hoarding is that it is actually a basic drive that has been distorted and accelerated beyond recognition. Like many other mental disorders which I feel have a basis in normal human drives.

      Like gluttony, for chrissakes.

  • Anonymous

    nomadic prehistoric man first started hoarding women, and the rest is history.

    • David

      Women as possessions gave way to cars.